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Japan does not import aquarium giant clams at present, and local supplies come from Okinawa (mainly Ishigaki Island) and Amami-ohshima. The species commonly found in Okinawa are Tridacna crocea, T. squamosa, T. maxima and Hippopus hippopus. T. crocea accounts for more than 90% of the total landings, most of which is consumed as food in Okinawa, while only very few are distributed as aquarium pets.

In 1995 the annual catch of giant clams was 28 tons as compared to 578 tons in 1975. Concerned at the dwindling stocks, state-set and self-imposed regulations prevail in the fishing areas, to protect the giant clam stock. To augment the supply, seed production operations have been undertaken by Okinawa Prefectural Fisheries Experimental Station, and seeds are distributed to the fishermen's cooperatives for culture and sea-ranching.

There are around 40 aquarium pet fishermen in Okinawa and Amami-ohshima. Assuming that a fisherman is capable of catching a maximum of 1,000 giant clams in a year, about 40,000 pieces must have been collected during the aquarium boom. The recent figures are estimated at 20,000 to 30,000 pieces.

Tracing the marketing route of aquarium giant clams that are produced in Okinawa and Amami-ohshima, fishermen themselves or local dealers ship giant clams together with other marine organisms to wholesalers or retailers in places of demand. The wholesalers in Tokyo sell 35 to 50% of their commodity to retailers in the Kanto area, and the rest all over Japan. On the contrary, wholesalers in Osaka cover mainly the western Japan market, selling 50% of their commodities in the Kansai area.

In Okinawa, T. crocea of 8 cm shell length are sold at 200 to 300 yen (US$1.50–$2.30) per piece on shore by fishermen to local dealers, who in turn sell them at 500 to 1,000 yen to wholesalers. These wholesalers sell the clams at 1,500 to 3,000 yen (US$11.00–$23.00) to retailers, and the final market price ranges from 3,000 to 6,000 (US$23.00–$46.00) yen per piece. Those prices vary widely depending on species, size, color and traders involved. Though the color and pattern of mantles are the most important factors that determine the consumer prices of giant clams, there seems to be no objective standard for pricing. One retailer sells T.crocea of metallic mantle color at a price over 5 times higher than that of the same species with brown mantle. In contrast, one wholesaler sells giant clams of metallic mantle color at a price only 1.5 times that of clams with poor color.

There are about 500 aquarium shops stocking marine invertebrates; each of them selling an average of 3 to 5 pieces per month. The estimated total number of giant clams sold by these shops is 18,000 to 30,000 pieces a year. Out of the 120,000 to 240,000 marine aquarium hobbyist in the country, 24,000 to 48,000 seem to be interested in marine invertebrates. Assuming that each of them buys two pieces a year, the potential annual demand for giant clams can be put at 48,000 to 96,000 pieces. These giant clams are supplied only from Okinawa and Amami-ohshima, and there is still a shortage of 18,000 to 76,000 pieces a year.

The procedures for import of aquarium giant clams in Japan has become more complicated by the amendment of import regulations in July 1992 for the organisms included in Appendix II of CITES. The importer should have the CITES license, before the giant clams are shipped, to obtain the prior approval. As the CITES office is controlling very strictly the import of CITES organisms, it is not easy to obtain the prior approval to import aquarium giant clams. At present there are no signatory countries of the Washington Treaty among the Pacific island countries. However, Fiji, Tonga, Solomon and Kiribati can export giant clams to Japan, since they have government agencies to act as CITES office.

A reef aquarium is a rather new item for the aquarium hobbyist in Japan. The number of reef aquariums is still small and, therefore, the market for marine invertebrates including giant clams is very small. However, there are several factors that could stimulate the market expansion for aquarium giant clams in Japan.

The sole source of aquarium giant clams for the Japanese market is Okinawa and Amami-ohshima. There is still a market demand and the clams from southern Japan is insufficient to fill the gap between demand and supply. Therefore, even at present, there exists a market for aquarium giant clams cultured in the Pacific island countries. The strategy advised is to enter the market by commencing experimental export of giant clams at the earliest, in cooperation with marine pet importers or wholesalers in Japan.

1 Project Consultant, Fisheries & Aquaculture International Co. Ltd, Japan

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